A tiny marine animal thought to have died out 4 million years ago has turned up alive in waters off the top of New Zealand's South Island, scientists said Thursday.
Called Protulophila, the "living fossil" formed a network of tiny holes in the chalky tubes of marine worms called serpulids, according to the New Zealand government's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).
Earlier this year a group of scientists from New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Norway discovered fossil examples less than a million years old, alerting them to the possibility that the animal, previously unknown outside of Europe and the Middle East, might still be alive in New Zealand.
It had been thought to have been extinct for 4 million years following a long geological history extending back 170 million years into the Middle Jurassic period in Europe.
"Finding living Protulophila is a rare example of how knowledge of fossils has led to the discovery of living biodiversity," NIWA marine biologist Dr Dennis Gordon said in a statement
"It's very exciting. Our detective work has also suggested the possibility that Protulophila may be the missing polyp stage of a hydroid in which only the tiny planktonic jellyfish stage is known. Many hydroid species have a two-stage life cycle and often the two stages have never been matched. Our discovery may thus mean that we are solving two puzzles at once."